Making light dance

In 2010, Hugh McGuire pointed me to a post by Frank Chimero in which he tried to answer the question "What is the future of print design?" In part, Chimero laid out an argument that much of what we design in print doesn’t “deserve an artifact”.

That notion stuck with me, finding its way into "Context first" as well as a set of observations in 2012, including "A living representation", the post that led me to "Disaggregating supply".

Chimero has been on sabbatical this fall, and he took some time to examine "What screens want". It culminated in a presentation last month at Build 2013, a festival for web designers that took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A version of the presentation can be found on his web site.

Because it is taken from a talk at a conference, Chimero's post is long, but it is well worth the time it requires. In my reading, I found four interwoven themes:

  • Designing for screens makes us "children of filmmaking", in which designers must manage time, movement and change in "making light dance"
  • It is in the nature of screens to want things to move and to change
  • "Movement, change and animation are a functional method for design"; designers must become adept at "crafting the interstitials"
  • With respect to the web, "we've taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention."

I may come back to each of these themes, but for today I'd like to focus on the third: the functional method for design.

In his post, Chimero defines flux as the "capacity for change". He goes on to note instances of low, high and medium flux:

  • Low: e.g, sorting data in Excel
  • High: immersive experiences, often great in physical spaces, but not on the web
  • Medium: assistive and descriptive animation; responsive content

With respect to screens, the use case for "medium" flux most interests Chimero. In his view, it is more than just how things look. Design must consider behaviors that respond to interaction as well as the adjustments made between fixed states (this is what he meant by "crafting the interstitials").

Chimero laments the absence of a shared language to describe the behaviors and adjustments used when designing for screens. In response, he makes a case for thinking broadly:

We need to work as a community to develop a language of transformation so we can talk to one another. And we probably need to steal these words from places like animation, theater, puppetry, dance, and choreography.

Absent from this assessment, which informs my more recent thinking about "architectures of collaboration", are any signs of allegiance to format. That doesn't surprise me about Chimero; he argued almost four years ago that some things must first earn the "privilege to be objects".

Here, he offers a more-than-useful reminder that our inspiration comes from acts of creation and storytelling in media that are not solely or even necessarily print. This is the risk in continuing to benchmark publishing against its established models. We miss the opportunity to become wholly transformative.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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